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  • Back to school

    Parents and other adult volunteers are becoming an increasingly important part of assisting in the educational process
  • One mom volunteers to teach a weekly Zumba class at her child's school. Two parents donate framing supplies and organize a schoolwide art show. Three grandmothers give time every day to correct papers on campus.
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    • How you can help
      Dee Anne Everson of the United Way of Jackson County invites businesses, retirees, parents and other community members who want to donate time to schoolchildren to contact her at 541-773-5339.
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      How you can help
      Dee Anne Everson of the United Way of Jackson County invites businesses, retirees, parents and other community members who want to donate time to schoolchildren to contact her at 541-773-5339.

      • Volunteers are needed to judge Medford high school senior projects May 17 and May 30-31. Contact Mary Holbrook, district director of Junior Achievement and the Medford School District Volunteer Center, at 541-842-3920 or mholbrook@ja-pdx.org
      • Community members interested in volunteering at any of Medford's 19 public schools or two charter schools can visit a school office directly and request a Volunteer In Medford Schools application.




      Information about the program and a list of schools and phone numbers are at www.medford.k12.or.us.
  • One mom volunteers to teach a weekly Zumba class at her child's school. Two parents donate framing supplies and organize a schoolwide art show. Three grandmothers give time every day to correct papers on campus.
    Do the math. Volunteer hours add up.
    And they allow schools to provide more services, instruction and learning support to elementary children without breaking an already tight budget or imposing on statewide orders that focus teachers' time on core subjects.
    "This type of community support is priceless," says Medford School District Superintendent Phil Long, who has had to recruit unpaid helpers to assist teachers in a push to meet Gov. John Kitzhaber's goal to graduate every student by 2025.
    To get those now-kindergartners successfully through 12th grade, every class-time second has to count, forcing art, music, computer lab time and physical education into 40-minutes-a-week rotations.
    Stepping in to help with tutoring and extra curriculum activities during lunchtime and after school are thousands of Rogue Valley parents, alumni, businesses and other community members.
    After completing the Volunteer In Medford Schools application and passing the screening process, they give time individually or in a group, helping out one time or on an ongoing basis.
    Rotary and other club members sponsor student leadership awards, scholarship grants and dictionary drives for third-graders. Clubs donate food baskets and help schools install new playground equipment.
    Parents put on book fairs and nights dedicated to exploring science, math and other core subjects. They read with children through the SMART (Start Making A Reader Today) program and help during the language-arts reading block. They collect food-box tops to exchange for PE equipment.
    A different parent a day teaches mini hobby lessons during recess at Hoover Elementary, from origami and lanyard crafts to theater improv and soccer drills. Principal Lynn Cataldo is looking for a jump-rope expert to help start a new club.
    Even graying seniors offer to help, through the Foster Grandparent Program. Retired educators with nicknames teach kids, such as James "Bubba" Richmond, 72, who offers a ceramics program at Griffin Creek Elementary.
    All of this free work helps to catapult Oregon to a ranking of eighth in the nation for volunteering.
    In 2011, nearly one in three Oregonians (31 percent) donated time to schools and other educational programs, according to Volunteering and Civic Life in America, a national report issued in December by the federal agency Corporation for National and Community Service.
    And yet with all of these helping hands, Long says local schools could use more.
    The district is under increased pressure to improve high-school graduation rates. Only 64 percent of the Class of 2012 graduated in the traditional four years. This rate is lower than the state average, which lingers in the bottom five of on-time graduation rates across the nation.
    In addition to new academic mandates, there are 140 fewer licensed teachers than a decade ago in charge of 13,000 Medford students, Long says.
    At the same time, the number of children needing extra help has grown. There are more homeless and economically disadvantaged youngsters. One in two of Medford's students qualifies for free or reduced school meals, one in 10 has identified special-education needs and one in 12 is learning English as a second language.
    A budding initiative to improve learning is to increase one-on-one tutoring, which would offer struggling students attention after school and during the summer.
    To accomplish this, the district needs to recruit, train and retain screened volunteers, and to make it easier to link them with a program or student.
    Over the years, the district has relied on Junior Achievement of Southern Washington and Oregon to bring qualified helpers into schools to teach curriculum and financial literacy. The organization's members already donate about 1,200 hours to district schools each year, says Mary Holbrook, JA's district director.
    Holbrook is also in charge of the Medford School District Volunteer Center at 815 S. Oakdale Ave. Here, potential volunteers can walk in and talk with someone about helping students in the district.
    The district also will be working with the United Way of Jackson County to boost academic achievement by connecting parents, kids and volunteers to 242 existing programs.
    Potential volunteers can learn about active programs — from arts to sports — and join in. If a retired music teacher wants to teach a fifth-grader guitar, United Way Executive Director Dee Anne Everson wants to receive a phone call at 541-773-5339.
    The community change project, called the Big Idea, officially launches later this month with the ambitious goal of assigning pre-screened adults to help each child in the school system.
    "We need to stop one in three of our students from failing to complete high school," says Everson, whose agency already helps people struggling with poverty, addiction, domestic violence, disabilities and other hardships.
    Many Medford School Board members and candidates vying for a seat in the May 21 election endorse the idea of cultivating more community volunteers to make up for funding cuts and classroom time dedicated to core work.
    Some recommend hiring a volunteer coordinator at each school. Title I schools have paid community coordinators while other public schools are recruiting volunteers.
    Principal Julie Hill of Ruch Elementary, a K-8 school with 201 students, realized she needed someone to organize the help offered by parents and the community.
    She created a community coordinator position and asked Michelle Hensman, who has a seventh-grader and a kindergartner at the school, to volunteer.
    "With that age span between children, Julie knew I was going to be here for a while," jokes Hensman, who puts in up to 40 hours a week matching students' and teachers' needs with people willing to share their expertise in the classroom.
    Some volunteers write grant proposals. Others teach children about fire safety.
    "Our society realizes there are gaps in our education system and schools are understaffed, teachers are overworked and classes are large, so schools can't do it all," says Hensman. "It's critical that schools get community support and that parents are involved. Otherwise, it seems abnormal to just send your kids off to have them instructed by someone."
    She says parents who volunteer want to bridge what's happening at school and academic instructions at home.
    "Volunteering empowers families," she says. "This way, we teach our kids that they can make a difference, too."
    Other elementary schools in the district are putting parents and others to work.
    At Washington Elementary, Principal Joe Frazier smiles when he sees three — sometimes four — grandmother volunteers on campus reading to students, correcting papers and providing "a caring, loving adult for students," he says.
    On May 3, when Washington Elementary received a plaque from the National Register of Historic Places, Frazier invited alumni to teach students about the 1931 art deco-style school building and the original school bell from the 1880s.
    Principal Tom Ettel at Kennedy Elementary found parent volunteers to monitor the campus after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut.
    Kennedy Elementary's Parent-Teacher Organization has been revived, too, thanks to 80 parents and community members who have put on a fall carnival and family movie and bingo nights, raised funds for field trips and teaching supplies, and helped out in the classrooms.
    Ettel would like to find volunteer instructional leaders who could be involved for several years, but realizes it's a demanding commitment.
    Jackson Elementary has volunteers who provide free tutoring and homework help in English or Spanish to students and their parents from any school on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.
    At Jefferson Elementary, fifth-grade teacher Jureen Gardner was awarded a grant from the Medford Schools Foundation to build a school garden. She worked with the Rogue Valley Farm to School program, which helped find businesses to donate materials. On May 4, teachers, parents, students and volunteers built 14 raised beds.
    Superintendent Long says that although the school district has preserved elementary music programs, schools are relying more on Parent-Teacher Organizations and booster clubs for arts-related activities, schoolwide art projects and artist-in-residence programs.
    Jacksonville Elementary receives 900 volunteer hours each month, enabling the school to put on events such as the Writers' Festival, with a published children's author and a panel of local writers who mentor students.
    The school's art program is completely run by parents who raise $4,000 for materials, teach classes and curate the annual art show.
    Abraham Lincoln Elementary hosted its first schoolwide art show with the help of kindergarten teacher Julia Alpers, who instructed older students in art during her free time, and parents Ann and Dan Ebert, who have four children enrolled at Abraham Lincoln, with the help of the school's booster club.
    The Eberts, who own Central Art Supply in Medford, collected pieces of art that the children made at home. They smoothed out the wrinkles on the watercolors and spiral art, and added customized matting and mounting, then propped the pieces up on easels.
    Schools are also getting help from neighborhood faith organizations, whose members volunteer in classrooms, media centers and where needed, says Long.
    Rogue Valley Christian Church helps Jefferson Elementary School with murals on its playground. Table Rock Fellowship sets up Howard Elementary's library before the start of each school year.
    Medford's First United Methodist Church gives to Jackson Elementary, Westminster Presbyterian Church donates clothes, school supplies and PE equipment to Washington Elementary, and the West Main Church of Christ gives clothing and school supplies to students in the Washington-Oak Grove attendance areas.
    "You can see," says Principal Frazier of Washington Elementary, "that it takes the whole Medford village to support a school."
    Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or jeastman@mailtribune.com.
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